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Chinese scholar's influence resonates globally

By LIANG KAIYAN ( China Daily)

Updated: 2021-05-25

With more than 500 years of development, Yangming Culture is more than just a legacy of the treasure trove of Chinese history, rather it is a bridge for cultural exchange in the modern world.

Yangming Culture is centered around and named after Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) philosopher Wang Yangming. It focuses on Wang's doctrines and their modern application. Wang's philosophy, based on the Confucian tradition in China, is composed of his well-known doctrines: the mind is principle, the unity of knowledge and action, and extension of the good conscience. These views have been discussed in detail by scholars around the world.

"In modern days, Yangming Culture can be regarded as a valuable cultural asset that China has to contribute to Western countries. It represents the intellectual achievements and the cultural creativity of the nation," said Cheng Chung-ying, a professor of philosophy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the United States.

In the 20th century, Chinese philosophy that originated from the pre-Qin period (c.2100-221 BC) began to arouse interest in the West. From the 1930s onward, Wang Yangming's works began to attract attention for their modern enlightenment thought. During the 1960s and 1980s, his thoughts were supposed as a philosophy for management in some studies, attracting the interest of academia and businesses in the US, according to Cheng.

"The Yangming School, also known as the School of the Mind, has developed gradually in the West," he noted.

Wang's doctrine of the unity of knowledge and action calls for the capability of seeing through appearances and perceiving the essence in tackling problems, Cheng said.

Cheng further explained Wang's philosophy features post-modernity, holding rational thinking in the face of difficult problems without prejudice. It encourages personal insight and perseverance.

"The Yangming School, with its visions and vigor, makes philosophy a driving and active force welcomed by academics and entrepreneurs."

Apart from Europe and the US, Yangming Culture has also been developed in East and South Asia.

In the early 16th century, Wang's thoughts were introduced to Japan, and thereafter it was promoted by Japanese Confucian philosopher Nakae Toju, often regarded as the father of the Japanese Yangming School.

The Japanese Yangming School has its own characteristics in development, said Deng Hong, a professor at the faculty of humanities of the University of Kitakyushu in Japan.

The school influenced the Meiji Restoration, a political event that started in the 1860s and brought about revolutionary changes in Japan's political and social structure. Many scholars and figures were influenced by Yangming Culture during that period, Deng said.

After the restoration, there was a movement of the Yangming School in the late 19th century, guiding the nation's moral education base on traditional oriental culture.

"Yangming Culture made contributions to the process of Japan's modernization, and played a role in the moral construction of the Japanese people," Deng said.

"It allows Japan to draw on Wang's doctrines in the practice of public enlightenment and enterprise ethics education," he said.

The Yangming School was introduced to the Korean Peninsula in the 16th century, and it has been developed with interpretations of relevant works.

The characteristics of the Yangming School developed on the peninsula represent open, innovative and practical spirits, and the love for people, said Kim Sea-jeong, president of the Confucianism Research Institute at the Chungnam National University in South Korea.

As a teacher with disciples all around the world, Wang's ideas also give reference to education.

"Wang's thought of the unity of knowledge and action contributes to education," Kim said.

In today's South Korea, the thought gives education a reference to balance teaching knowledge and practical skills.

"I think Wang's thoughts of the unity of knowledge and action, and the extension of conscience should be utilized to help solve the problems separating knowledge and action in human nature in today's South Korea," Kim said.

"China and South Korea have both been influenced by Confucian culture, and the two nations have a long-term inclusive and cooperative relationship.

"The Yangming School in Confucian tradition promotes mutual respect and exchanges… and that can be a principle for all exchanges between the two countries," Kim said.

The birthplace of Wang's Longchang Enlightenment in Xiuwen county, Guizhou province, has held the International Cultural Festival of Wang Yangming six times since 1999, and features extensive discussions among experts and officials from all around the world.

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